“The industry is dead, Dunkirk is dead!” This slogan was chanted for a long time in this devastated land which was losing its inhabitants and its industries. Until, in the 2010s, it turned towards ecological transition, under the leadership of its new mayor Patrice Vergriete (various left). His conviction? “In fifteen years, what will count in the industry will be decarbonization!” A new direction that is starting to bear fruit.
To make Dunkirk attractive and attract the flagships of the 21st century, it was first necessary to put in place the appropriate tools: providing “green” electricity, having a heat and water network… The councilor set about it, accumulating “small victories”*. The first one ? The establishment of the Irish Ecocem in 2016, with its ecological cement production unit. And “big victories” too. When the government launched its project to reindustrialize the country, eyes fell on the Flemish city “because it was a step ahead”, rejoices Patrice Vergriete, who joined the government, but still president of the urban community from Dunkirk. While the industrial-port zone remains the most emitting in France, the decarbonization of the companies present is in fact underway. With the symbol ArcelorMittal. The leading emitter of greenhouse gases in France will replace coal with hydrogen and electricity in order to reduce its CO2 emissions by 40%. Cost of the project: 1.7 billion euros – part of which is contributed by the State!
The impact is already being felt on the job market. “By 2030, we will create 20,000 additional jobs in the region,” promises Patrice Vergriete. 2,000 positions are announced in the low-carbon battery mega-factory of French company Verkor; 3000 at that of the Taiwanese ProLogium. Without forgetting those, indirect, linked to the construction of the two EPRs and an offshore wind farm. The latter, planned for 2028, is not unanimous. “The installation of 46 wind turbines 300 meters high 10 kilometers from the coast, moreover in a Natura 2000 zone, is both inappropriate and unnecessary,” believes Florent Caulier, president of the Vent Debout 59 association. due to the risks of visual pollution, water and noise pollution harmful to cetaceans. Useless when the neighboring Gravelines nuclear power plant already produces the best green electricity in the world!”
An “eco-win” program
Not enough to deviate from his course Patrice Vergriete, who nevertheless takes care to involve residents in this transition, notably via an ingenious “eco-win” program. The principle ? By doing something for the planet, we improve our purchasing power. Proof by example. The introduction of free bus service resulted in a 125% increase in the attendance rate, while aid for the acquisition of a new bicycle (500,000 euros paid since 2020) has boosted an entire sector, from repairers to bicycle sellers.
The one who has just been appointed Minister of Housing obviously could not remain inactive on this issue. “Alongside bonuses aimed at improving insulation, we offer support from the diagnosis to the completion of the work to enable a complete renovation,” assures the person concerned. And to also promise 1,200 new housing units in the city center, to avoid urban sprawl, as well as the planting of 200,000 trees by 2026 to revegetate a very mineral city. With the hope, in the long term, of making industry and ecology rhyme a little better.
* The opposition elected officials contacted did not respond to requests from L’Express.
An article from the special report of L’Express “Cities”, published in the weekly of November 16